She hit the ground hard and the wind was driven out of her. Carpet scraped her cheek and her arms were pulled behind her in a tight grip. She felt him kneel down, his free hand frantically snatching at her pockets. He found her phone and ripped it out. She heard the sound of it cracking against the wall and then he was bent over her, a wolf with hot breath and no mercy.
She tasted sweat as a hand came down on her mouth. She struggled and kicked, but he was so heavy. He was trying to reach down to her throat, she could feel him leaning, trying to get a better angle. His hand moved over her mouth again and she took the only chance she would get. She snapped her teeth down and felt tough, weathered skin on her tongue.
Disgust, reluctance, doubt: these lesser thoughts fled, and she bit down as hard as she could, growling and shaking her head. She felt tendons slip under her teeth and then her mouth was flooded with hot, tangy blood. She wanted to gag, but the moment he started screaming and trying to pull back she knew she had to do as much damage as could. She bit down harder, still growling. He grabbed the back of her head, a fist in her short black hair, and yanked it back while he tried to pull his wounded hand away, but she wouldn’t give in. His thumbnail was carving lines in her cheek, and there was blood running down her neck from where he had pulled clumps of hair out, but every moment she had him in her teeth was a victory.
Finally, he cried out and she felt sick as something hit her at the nape of her neck. Her vision blurred and she felt lighter as the weight was taken off her back. She wanted to rest, to take a moment to get her bearings, but there was too much happening, too much danger.
She rolled over onto her back and saw him, Mr. Tuppence, sitting against a wall and cradling his bloody hand. His teeth were bared as he hissed and cursed, inspecting the bite. His normally calm face was flushed and puffy and his real-estate haircut was in complete disarray.
Bethany got to her feet and ran for the door. She was surprised at how quickly she was outside, grabbing her keys off the hallway table, and at her car, ignoring his shouts behind her. She spat a glob of his flesh and blood onto her front lawn and ripped open her car door. Once her doors were locked and her engine was on, she chanced a glance and saw him standing in the doorway of her house, staring at her, his blood soaking into the welcome mat. Then he started running for his own car, which he had parked behind hers in the driveway. He thought she was trapped.
She threw the car into reverse and drove it back down the slope. Her hatchback crunched into his four-wheel-drive just as he reached for the handle. He snatched his hand back and glared at her, then went for the door again.
She went forward and crashed through her garage door, caving the corrugated metal in with a horrible screech. Then she was backing out and turning, and her rear bumper knocked the door closed on Tuppence’s leg. She heard his yelp and felt a grim satisfaction.
Once on the road she went from first to fourth as quick as she could, feeling her little yellow car struggle under the strain. For a moment she thought she’d made a getaway, but she saw the enormous bright headlights of his truck closing in on her and knew there was more to come.
She had never thought of her home as isolated, only five minutes away from town and civilisation, but in that moment she felt adrift and completely helpless.
The burning halogens bore down on her and her car shook as he hit her rear. She gripped the wheel, keeping straight, refusing to let her little yellow car be tossed into the forest where he could drag her out, alone and screaming, to finish the job.
She passed the first streetlamp, which meant the world was close. Then she passed through an empty intersection, running a red light. She was in town now, all she needed was to find another person and-
The world became a blur and she heard a crunch, followed by the scream of tyres. Before she could understand what was happening, she was struck in the face and had come to a jarring halt. She could hear tinkling and hissing.
Coughing and blinking the stars out of her eyes, Bethany opened her door and fell out, not onto asphalt but cool tile. She looked up and found herself near the cigarette counter of the supermarket. She turned and saw that her car had crashed through the front doors and was now spewing steam into the air.
She heard a thump, looked around and through the steam she saw Tuppence’s truck, lights near blinding her. She heard footsteps crunching on glass, and knew he was coming.
She stumbled to her feet and plunged forward into the supermarket.
The overhead lights were all out, but the fridges still gave off a ghostly glow from their fluorescent bulbs.
Her hands itched and she wiped them on her shirt. When they felt tacky, she looked down and saw that she had cut them up on the glass littered floor. She grimaced and tried not to think about it. They were shallow cuts; she could think about them later.
She heard his panting behind her as she stumbled down the dark rows of chips and drinks.
“Bethany!” he rasped, “Enough is enough! Just… end this and I promise you, you won’t have to suffer.”
She ignored him.
“But if you keep making me chase you… if you keep acting like this… spoiled… rotten… bitch… then I’ll hurt you. I’ll make every second is worse than the last.”
She ground her teeth and didn’t respond.
She heard a crash in the next row over and she froze, listening to him scream and thrash around, taking his anger out on the shelves.
“COME BACK HERE YOU BITCH!”
She tightened her mouth. She looked down and saw the faintest shadow underneath the aisle. He was moving down to the end.
As quietly as she could, she fell to her hands and knees and crawled under the aisle, trying not to sneeze as she moved through the disturbing amount of dust.
She came out the other side just as he disappeared around the corner and stepped into the aisle she had just left. Maybe now she could double back, get outside and call for help.
But not now. Wait till he was in the next aisle, further away.
She watched his shadow move slowly down the aisle. Heard him dragging in breaths, panting like an animal.
Then the shadow paused.
What? She moaned inside, Why is he stopping, what could he…
Then she saw the bloody marks she had left on the floor.
He let out a yell and the entire aisle shuddered and tipped, falling down on her. She was smack in the middle and had nowhere to go. A shelf struck her in the head, and she fell to the ground, curling into a ball and covering herself as tins clattered down around her.
The aisle caught on the one behind her. It didn’t crush her, but it was only about fifty centimetres off the floor at the tallest point, and the way out was clogged up with items.
She lay still, tried not to breathe. The aisle above her groaned as Tuppence stepped up onto it. She couldn’t see him, but she felt every footstep as he creaked around above her.
The blade of an axe suddenly bit down near her eye. Remarkably, she made no noise, squeezing her lips together and lying completely still. He wrenched the blade out and brought it down again, this time further away.
She began to relax.
It came down again and the blade buried itself in the muscle of her calf.
She screamed and she heard him laugh – he actually laughed – as he pulled the axe free and started bringing it down again and again. In his haste he wasn’t using all his strength, and several of the blows that could have been deadly didn’t come near enough to hurt her. She desperately started crawling, knocking things aside, feeling like she was swimming through a blocky, choked ocean. The axe came down on her shoulder and she cried out again. The floor was slick with her blood and sweat. Her breath sounded like a passenger jet in her head.
She looked to the side and realised she could slip under the neighbouring aisle instead of coming out the end, where he was waiting for her.
She scrabbled through, coughing and spluttering as she swallowed dust, crawling out into open space. She could see the front of the store, thought she even saw torches, and was scrambling to her feet.
She felt a foot kick her in the small of her back and she fell forward, now sobbing with desperation. She rolled onto her back, and he stood over her, sweating, bleeding and clutching a scratched axe, already dripping with her own blood.
There was a mad glint in his eye, and he lifted the axe over his head, “You nosy little bitch.”
It was over. He would kill her and bury her and then blend back into society and obscur-
“POLICE! WEAPON DOWN, HANDS IN THE AIR!”
Flashlights fell on his face and his mouth dropped as he looked past her.
She twisted around and felt relief at the sight of red and blue flashing lights and two men in uniform, guns aimed at Tuppence.
She turned back to Tuppence and her hope was dashed. He hadn’t dropped the axe. He was staring down at her. He was going to kill her anyway. They would shoot him, but not before the axe was already buried in her stomach.
She was so close, almost free, so close…
So close to him.
With a savage yell she kicked out at his knee and he stumbled backwards. The axe clanged to the ground and one man pulled her back as another fell on Tuppence, yanking his hands behind his back, like he had done to her only minutes ago…
The canula in her hand itched, but it wasn’t as bad as the stitches on her calf.
She lay on the crisp, white sheets of the hospital bed, almost nodding off again to the rhythmic beeping that came from the dozens of machines across the different rooms.
A light knock on her door stirred her and she looked up.
Detective Morse, a short man with a stubbly face and curly hair, gave her an apologetic smile, “I’m sorry to disturb you.”
“It’s fine,” she said. Her throat was dry, and her voice was a little hoarse. She swallowed, “I was expecting you.”
“Water?” He asked.
She nodded, and he got her a thin plastic cup. She sipped gratefully. “I’m sorry I couldn’t fill you in properly before…”
He waved a dismissive hand, “You’d been through a terrible ordeal, it’s absolutely fine, but… we do have questions that only you can answer.”
“Like, ‘why was he trying to kill me?’”
He nodded, “Among others.”
She pulled her handbag off the chair next to her. Her sister had brought it, at Beth’s request. She reached in and pulled out her camera and held it out to Detective Morse, “This is why.”
Morse regarded the camera for a moment before putting on a pair of sterile gloves and taking it. He turned it on. “You’re a photographer?”
She shrugged, “I was giving it a go.”
He was clicking through the photos, “These are… um…”
“They’re crap,” Beth said, “I know. I wasn’t really getting the hang of it, but I thought I’d go out in the forest and take some photos, see how they turned out. I was playing around with the settings and stuff, even though I don’t really know what any of them are.”
Morse looked up, “Miss Dennings, I don’t understand-”
“Numbers forty-five to fifty-three.”
He gave her a glance and then looked back down at the camera screen, clicking through. He frowned, “I still don’t-”
“Turn it on about a sixty-degree angle.”
He looked at her.
“What? I was trying something.”
He tilted the camera, still squinting. Then his eyes widened, and his eyebrows raised. “What were you trying to photograph?”
“Some bug that was right in front of me,” Beth said, “He was on the other side of the gully. I didn’t even realise what I’d caught until I was looking at them all later. That was a week after I took the photos… a week after she went missing.”
Morse looked up at her, “You caught him burying his daughter’s body. This… this alone is enough to convict him. How did he find out you had these?”
“I,” she blushed, “I tried to sleuth. I got caught.”
He sat back in his chair, “Took a little inspiration from Veronica Mars?”
She gave a half smile, “I forgot that she deliberately takes incriminating photos.”
Morse shook his head slowly, “I don’t have to tell you that you could have been killed?”
She cocked her head to the side, “I’ve been picking his skin out of my teeth. I get it.”
“Good,” he said, getting to his feet. He held up the camera, “You understand we’re going to have to hold onto this for a while?”
She nodded, “I’m not sure I want it back. What happens if I stumble on a drug deal or a mafia hit?”
“You call the police,” Morse said, without a trace of irony. He looked down at the camera and then back up at her, “This is an incredible piece of evidence… but it isn’t worth your life. Get some rest, Bethany.”
He left, and she listened to his footsteps echo down the hallway. When they had faded away, she reached into her handbag and pulled out Michelle McNamara’s ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.’
She didn’t realise it, but as she gradually moved through the pages, a small, sly smile crept across her face…